More than 100 years after India’s celebrated movie industry, Bollywood, was born, the first Indian film museum will open in Mumbai.

Costing nearly $20 million USD and seven years in the making, the government-funded National Museum of Indian Cinema will trace Indian cinema’s history from the black and white silent era to its modern musical blockbusters.

Curator Amrit Gangar stated, “It’s about time India had its own film museum. We have archives but not a museum, and today, a museum can become vibrant because of technology and interactivity.”

Set in an elegant 19th century heritage bungalow in South Mumbai and spreading across 6,000 sq ft, the museum houses original artefacts, memorabilia, recordings and film-making tools. Visitors can listen to songs by K.L. Saigal-considered the first superstar of Hindi film, and see an original painted poster for the 1957 epic Mother India.

The museum will not celebrate just Hindi-language Bollywood, but also represent films made in the various regions and languages across India, where more than 1,500 films are produced every year. The museum is reported to be ready and will open in the next few weeks with Anil Kumar, the Head of Marketing at the government’s Film Division saying, “All the film-making centres of India have been represented.”

Many of India’s early films have not been preserved, leaving curators of the project with large gaps in the country’s cinematic heritage. Gangar stated, “Many things have been lost. We have only 1 per cent of early silent films left. Therefore, this is not a museum of collections but a museum of information, interaction and education through a sensory experience.” The last remaining print of India’s first “talkie”, the 1931 film Alam Ara (The Light of the World), was destroyed in a fire in 2003.

The curators of the museum claim that one of the largest challenges has been procuring original film memorabilia. Kumar said, “We didn’t get much, but we got a few things through donations and purchases. Many things have previously been amassed by private collectors. This museum will be more educational.”

Curators hope that the museum will take visitors “through the journey of Indian cinema, from pre-cinema and the silent era to talkies and songs, the studio system, new wave and digital”.

— Jay Cray, Editor (Film)